In the summer of 2013, I enrolled at Second City in their Comedy Writing 1 course. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I knew that I could expect some laughter. And, laughter did ensue, trust me. What I didn’t expect was that my teacher was going to be from one of the greatest comedy shows to ever come out of Canada EVER. What’s that all about? My teacher was Paul Bellini who was one of the writers on The Kids in the Hall. He was also Bellini, from the Poke Bellini Contest. Amazing. Especially for me, because I grew up watching the show and was pretty much obsessed with it for a time.
Paul was a wonderful instructor who not only was a good at teaching comedy, but was able to provide insights from actually working in the biz. It was awesome. Often, when people would ask me about what I liked about taking courses at Second City (I also took writing 2 and will be taking writing 3 one day), I would always respond, ‘it’s three hours of people in a room trying to make each other laugh. It’s perfect.’ And, because Paul was my instructor for both classes, he was a big part of this.
Lucky for me (and you), Paul kindly agreed to do an interview with me. Here it is:
JTTM: You were one of the writers of one of the funniest maybe even ‘the’ funniest show to come out of Canada. What was it like in the writer’s-room of Kids in the Hall?
PB: Sometimes it was like a battlefield, sometimes it was like a pageant, and sometimes it was like a wild party. It was never dull. We kept very loose hours. (The producers encouraged us to write at home, or at the office, as long as we showed up for the weekly read-through with a few sketches.) We played music and ate things constantly. We talked and joked and tried to out-do each other. Sometimes friends would visit. It really was a dream job.
JTTM: Poke Bellini – hilarious. How did this sketch come to be?
PB: I happened to tell Mark about my trip to a bathhouse. Somehow, the image of me walking around in a towel made him laugh. A day later, we were having a production meeting and one of the producers suggested we hold a contest. This was the beginning of the second season, and we needed a viewership boost. But the Kids thought a contest would be ordinary and unappealing. Until Mark suggested that the prize be me in a towel. Everyone burst out laughing, so I realized at that moment I could not say no. Besides, as dumb as it was, it was a chance at stardom. Who wouldn’t do it?
JTTM: Did it hurt when they poked you?
PB: Of course not, neither physically nor emotionally. The poking part was Bruce’s contribution to the whole thing, by the way.
JTTM: Were you cold?
It was cold when we went to Perth-Andover, New Brunswick. It was the first of four trips (two separate contests, one for Canada and one for America). I only wore the towel when the cameras were running, so I was never cold for very long. I do remember the bracing November air did make my nipples erect. Luckily, the other three winners were all in warmer climates.
PB: Do you still walk around in only white towels?
Only if it pays.
JTTM: How many white towels do you own?
PB: I have one which is suitably large enough to wrap around my waist. I keep it in a drawer and only use it for Bellini appearances. All my other towels are various colors.
7) How did Bellini Day come to be?
Andy Jones wrote a sketch in which Bellini (the towel guy character, not me personally) was worshipped as a deity. The sketch never made it past read-through. But a few weeks later, Bruce wrote a version featuring the futuristic father and son from the ‘Vegas’ sketch of second year. Everyone loved it, especially the departments, who got to build cool props, like The Story of Bellini pop-up book, the Bellini Christmas tree ornaments (refurbished from a novelty store item in which a tiny fat little monk would squirt pee if you pushed him downward), and the spinning Bellini hologram.
JTTM: What was your favourite part of working on Kids in the Hall?
PB: My favorite part was knowing that we were doing something special, making a TV show that lives on (in syndication, in Emmy history, on DVD) and a show that made me famous enough to merit listings on imdb, Wikipedia, and Who’s Who. I also enjoyed the fact that we were doing something very different from other sketch shows (we never did a parody and other than Queen Elizabeth and Einstein never impersonated real persons). I also enjoy the fact that I can still watch any random episode and find something to make me laugh or cause my jaw to drop.
JTTM: What was the favourite thing you wrote on This Hour has 22 Minutes?
PB: I wrote a Heritage Minute about the invention of the rye and ginger ale cocktail, and a parody of Ken Finkleman’s Newsroom series. They both turned out great.
JTTM: When you appeared in Brain Candy, what was your role? Did you play Bellini?
PB: The Towel Guy appeared in the Happiness Pie production number. It took all night overnight to shoot. The first part involved me and an actor dressed like a priest on a moving platform, rising up in the sky into the clouds. The second part involved standing in the giant pie, which was a huge swimming pool with a crust, filled with this horrible slime-like liquid.
JTTM: Besides Second City, what else are you up to now?
PB: I teach Sketch Comedy writing and performing at George Brown College, as well as Sketch Writing at the Second City Training Center. I also do other various workshops in LGBT Comedy and I am starting a new one, Wild Side Comedy, this fall. Teaching is lots of fun. Who knew?
JTTM: Are you still into music, do you still have a band that you jam with?
PB: I am too old to rock’n’roll. The problem is, all of my musicians are old, too, and we never find the time to rehearse or perform. Scott and I have been working on a Mouth Congress project for years now. It might be finished one day.
JTTM: What do you love about writing comedy?
PB: I love making myself laugh. When I write a joke that makes me laugh, I feel like I’ve done something great. If it makes other people laugh, even better. Comedy is endlessly inventive. It’s a great way to flex one’s intellect.
JTTM: What I loved about your classes, is how honest you were with us. We knew our sketch was a flop when you’d start your feedback with ‘Okay…’ When you’re teaching, do you recognize which students who have the potential to make it?
PB: I can recognize a hard worker, or someone who is always thinking. I cannot predict success. I know lots of very talented people who never got anywhere.
JTTM: What’s next? I can’t wait to see it!
PB: Retirement. How exciting will that be, huh?
JTTM: Is there anything else you’d like to add? For example, on such and such date, you will be standing in front of Roy Thompson Hall in a towel?
PB: I would like to urge all of your readers to sign up for my George Brown classes. They will have the times of their lives, and maybe find their way into a comedy career. At very least, you’d get to poke me in the belly. Wouldn’t that be worth it?
So if you love comedy, and want to experience homework that for the first time ever is actually hilarious, I’d recommend signing up. Look into Second City courses here: http://www.secondcity.com/training/toronto/
And, click on the image below for George Brown and enrol as fast as you can!